Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q. What is a Sequoia AVC Advantage and why did you study it?
A. The AVC Advantage is a DRE voting computer sold by Sequoia Voting Systems, used in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other states. In 2004 Rutgers Law School Constitutional Litigation Clinic filed a lawsuit seeking to decommission New Jersey's voting computers. We were asked by these attorneys for the plaintiffs to examine the voting computers and report on their accuracy and security.
Q. What's the bottom line?
A. Our executive summary lists our main conclusions. But the main point is that it's easy for someone to replace the computer program inside the AVC Advantage with one that fraudulently moves votes from one candidate to another. No audit trail will detect this kind of vote-stealing, since the AVC Advantage has no voter-verified paper ballot that can be recounted.
We found several other insecurities (ways the AVC Advantage can be hacked) and inaccuracies (ways that the AVC Advantage can fail to record the intent of the voter), which we explain in the report.
Q. Why did you release your report so soon before the November election?
A. We would have preferred to release this report much earlier. However, a Court Order prevented us from releasing it before October 17, 2008.
Q. What's the lawsuit about?
A. The plaintiffs are suing officials of the State of New Jersey, seeking to decommission of all of New Jersey's voting computers. Approximately 10,000 voting computers are used in New Jersey; all of them are direct recording electronic computers ``DREs,'' and the vast majority of these DREs are Sequoia AVC Advantages. None of those DREs can be audited: they do not produce a voter verified paper ballot that permit each voter to create a durable paper record of her electoral choices before casting her ballot electronically on a DRE. The legal basis for the lawsuit is quite simple: because there is no way to know whether the DRE voting computer is actually counting votes as cast, there is no proof that the voting computers comply with the constitution or with statutory law that require that all votes be counted as cast.
Q. How did you get access to the AVC Advantage voting computers and source code to study them?
A. A critical part of every lawsuit is `discovery,' i.e., the exchange of information by adversaries in a lawsuit. Discovery is designed to give parties access to their adversaries' documents and other information that is relevant to a lawsuit. Discovery provides litigants with crucial information needed to prove their case, when that information is in the sole custody of their adversaries. In this case the Plaintiffs did not have access to information that would help them prove their case that DREs were unreliable and insecure. The Plaintiffs did not even have the ability to test the DREs they suspected were constitutionally infirm. The DRE voting computers belong to New Jersey's 21 counties.
As part of the discovery process, the Court ordered the defendants (officials of the State of New Jersey) to provide to the plaintiffs: Sequoia AVC Advantage voting machines, the source code to those voting machines, as well as other information that would enable them to support their legal claims.
Q. Isn't the source code a trade secret?
A. The Sequoia Voting Systems company, which had not been a party to the lawsuit, objected to the examination of their source code by the plaintiffs' experts, on the grounds that the source code contained trade secrets. The Court recognized that concern, and crafted a Protective Order that permitted the plaintiffs' experts to examine the source code while protecting the trade secrets within it. However, the Court Order does permit the plaintiffs' experts to release this report to the public at a specified time.
Q. What was the outcome of the lawsuit?
A. As of October 17, 2008, both sides are preparing for a trial which is expected to take place in approximately November 2008.
Q. Will New Jersey be using these voting computers in the November 2008 election?
Q. Isn't that a big problem, if the voting computers can be hacked?
A. It is a problem. But we encourage everyone to vote. We should all hope and assume that no one would be so dishonest as to hack a voting machine to steal an election. We cannot assume that any particular voting machine in New Jersey or elsewhere has actually been hacked. If you care about how the country is run, your best bet is to vote.
Q. Is it more secure to vote by absentee ballot?
A. That's a good question. We don't know the answer. Each citizen should make this decision for himself or herself.
Q. Why don't you know whether absentee ballots are secure?
A. What happens to your absentee ballot after it goes into the mail? What happens to it after it's received by the County Clerk? How are the absentee ballots counted? Is the computer that counts them susceptible to viruses from the Internet? Is there a mandatory manual audit of absentee ballots, to protect against the possibility of flawed computer counting? These are all reasonable concerns; in your county, maybe they are doing everything right. It's worth finding out.
Also, absentee ballots are susceptible to vote-buying and coercion. Of course you can fill out your own absentee ballot in secret, but maybe some voters will feel pressured to show their ballot to someone else. More than 100 years ago, the United States adopted the secret ballot because voters were being bribed and strong-armed into voting the way someone else wanted (their employer, their local ward boss, etc.). That's why we have voting booths with curtains. Absentee ballots do not have this protection.
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